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Headaches Hurt Children in Many Ways

Migraines Wreak Havoc on Children's Quality of Life

WebMD Health News

July 10, 2003 -- Children with frequent headaches may suffer more in some respects than children with more physically devastating conditions like cancer and arthritis, according to a new study.

Researchers found headaches can affect children's emotional development and school performance more than some other serious health problems. The study, published in the July issue of Pediatrics, suggests that headaches have a significant impact on children's overall quality of life.

"Headaches are a common problem found in about one of every 10 children or four adolescents," says researcher Scott Powers, PhD, co-director of the Cincinnati Children's Headache Center, in a news release.

"The fact that the impact of these headaches is at least equal to that of childhood illnesses often considered more severe and debilitating suggests that pediatricians and other caregivers should place more emphasis on their recognition, diagnosis and effective treatment."

Headaches Hurt More than Kids' Heads

The study surveyed 572 children and teens who were treated for headaches at the Cincinnati Children's Headache Center. The children and their parents filled out a questionnaire about the child's history of headache as well as his or her daily functioning and emotional well-being.

Most of the children (99%) were diagnosed with migraine and 40% had chronic daily headaches.

Researchers compared the children's responses with established norms for healthy and chronically ill children. They found that quality of life measures were significantly lower for children with headaches compared with healthy children and they were lowest for children with daily headaches. The negative impact of migraine on the children's quality of life was similar to the effects associated with cancer and arthritis.

The children with headaches were adversely affected in all areas of functioning, including school performance, emotional development, and physical health. In particular, children with migraines reported a higher level of impairment in school and emotional functioning than children with other chronic diseases.

Researchers say children with migraine headaches might suffer more in these areas due to the unpredictable nature of migraine headaches.

"Without advance warning, it is difficult to 'plan' for school absences by collecting classroom lessons or homework assignments in advance," write the researchers. "On returning to school, children with headaches may spend a significant amount of time completing old assignments while learning new material."

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